Tamania Jaffri more commonly known as Urdu Mom is a mother of 2, a Canadian Pakistani, living in Calgary and passing on the love for culture and Urdu language not only to her kids but to thousands of kids worldwide. Her Live Urdu story time is very popular not only with kids outside of Pakistan but also in Pakistan, mainly because of the fun and interactive way she conducts those sessions, along with her 7-year-old daughter Zeynab.
Tamania has lots of feathers in her cap, in contributing towards making the learning of Urdu language fun for kids. She was recently interviewed on BBC Urdu as well and will also be doing a TED Talk later this year in Calgary.
When I started this section, she was one of the first ones on my list of women I wanted to interview. The love of Urdu language and the challenges of teaching Urdu and encouraging kids to speak the language outside of Pakistan was something I found common between us (My husband started an Urdu Club here in Doha which focuses on teaching written and spoken Urdu to kids in a fun way – read about it here).
Though I wanted to interview her, I didn’t know how would it be possible to meet her in person…She lives in Calgary and I go to Toronto in Summer (to meet my mum)... And in Pakistan, her parents live in Islamabad, whereas we always go to Karachi. But when things are meant to be, they happen. By mere coincidence, I found out when we reached Islamabad on our recent Pakistan Trip (read about our adventure here), that she was visiting her parents and I immediately jumped at the opportunity to meet and photograph her.Tamania is as wonderful in person as she is on her social media. She is one of the warmest and the most genuine people I have met on this journey of interviewing women. We connected at so many different levels that day while our kids enjoyed playing together. It was such a lovely experience chatting with her and photographing her and her adorable kids.
So without wasting any more time, let’s dig into what she had to say to my questions.
Q: Tell us something about yourself? Who is Tamania in real life?
Tamania: I’m a 38-year-old mom to Zeynab (7) and Hussein (3) living in Canada with my husband of ten years, Jaffar. I was born in Pakistan, the middle child, to an elder sister and a younger brother and had an adventurous childhood with parents who deeply embedded the love of Pakistan, Urdu and culture in our hearts. I have done my Bachelor’s in Computer Sciences and an MBA from LUMS in Pakistan. I was working for the telecommunications sector in Pakistan before I moved to Canada after getting married and transitioned towards marketing in the non-profit sector.Q: What inspired you to start this blog? Tell us about the ‘Urdu Mom’ journey?
Tamania: When I became a mother at the age of 30 I realized the need to keep my mother tongue Urdu alive and relevant in our home in Canada. I was raised bilingual myself in Pakistan. However, I soon realized that as my daughter was growing in Canada she was getting a lot of support for her English language skills and I needed to teach her Urdu myself. I also felt that there was a need for more fun Urdu learning content and a resource to share the existing ones out there to encourage other parents. I’m passionate about raising bilingual children and strongly advocate for the cause due to the many social, cognitive and practical benefits of being bilingual.
I now write Urdu stories, poems and create Urdu videos for children that are shared on the blog. These are all to support a bilingual English-Urdu environment in any house.
I’m also a fairly regular immigrant Pakistani-Canadian mother and write about many things that any parent can relate to like toddler tantrums, recipes, parenting tips and everyday stories.Q: How has becoming a mother changed you? Did you find it challenging to give up your career to be a full-time mom? What is your biggest challenge as a mum?
Tamania: Had someone told me back in 2008 that I would be a stay-at-home mom of two children doing pick-up and drop-offs, library classes and grocery trips I would have laughed at their face. Things changed like they always do especially when we firmly believe they never will.
Becoming a mother was one of the most definitive moments of my life, finding love like I never knew before. I studied and worked part-time with my daughter. However just before I had my son, I decided to become a full-time stay-at-home mother. It was a decision that was thoroughly mine and one that took many years for people around me to understand, including my parents. My husband was on board with my decision but I arrived on it totally on my own. It took me many months to accept this role myself. Yes, I did get those nagging thoughts: “but what about your career plans”, “all your studies will go to waste”, “you will regret this”, “I will get bored to death listening to nursery rhymes all day”, “my children might not get benefits that other kids do”, etc etc. It wasn’t just my thoughts, many people were kind enough to ask me these questions on my face. Others posted articles and researches online and engaged in heated “mommy wars” social media debates.
I found my peace with all these thoughts and questions after making peace with my own decision. I realized that this was a decision extremely personal to me and my circumstances. That I could not judge anyone else’s decision just like they can’t judge mine. I respect every parent’s decision whether it is to work outside the house, work part-time or to be at home because all parents know best for their own life and child. I know my home, my children, my path and I have made the best decision on the data points available.
I wanted to be fully available and present for my children and feel extremely lucky to be able to stay at home with them. Yes, it’s always not that pretty. There are tantrums, mountains of laundry and never-ending to-do lists. My MBA trained mind forces me to optimize house chores by schedules, lists and yes even excel sheets. But I know that like all things in life staying at home with my children is also a season and this too shall pass all too quickly. So I want to make the most of it while I can, with those morning snuggles in bed, chats over the walk to school and afternoons collecting leaves in the garden.Q: What do you find most challenging about raising kids outside of Pakistan?
Tamania: We do not have the luxury of a support system that our parents could so reliably depend upon in Pakistan. There is no grandfather to gently guide the children, the grandmother to teach “Quran” or cousins to play with. A parent has to fill in many roles and model various traits we want our children to learn such as the appreciation of traditions, religion and morality.Q: Why do you think language is important to cultural identity?
Tamania: I strongly believe that language is the gateway to culture and by introducing my children to Urdu I wish to pass on the love of Pakistani culture to my children through the poetry, art and music. My children have a distinct Canadian-Pakistani identity and I want them to be equally proud of both.Q: Do you talk to your kids ONLY in Urdu?
Tamania: We talk in both Urdu and English. Q: Your live Urdu story time is very popular, what motivated you to start that?
Tamania: I started my journey of spreading the joy of Urdu in 2013 through arranging Urdu Story Time events once a month at my home in Calgary. These were offered for free in Calgary for Pakistani families who could speak and understand Urdu and wanted to pass on the language to their children. However, I felt a capacity constraint and started offering the Urdu Story Time on my blog’s Facebook page via Live videos.
The weekly Urdu story time is broadcasted every Saturday morning from our house in Calgary where I conduct the session with my now seven-year-old daughter.Q: What’s the best piece of advice you ever received? Any advice for new moms who are living outside of Pakistan?
Tamania: When I was a new mother I remember I was once walking through the baby section totally bewildered and confused by the options available. As I consulted an elderly sales lady, she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You’re the manual your child comes with”. That advice has stayed with me since and helps me navigate motherhood.
My advice to all new moms is to respect and love their heritage if they wish to pass it on to their children. Raising multilingual children is one of the best gifts you can pass on to them.Q: What is a skill you’d like to learn and why?
Tamania: Time Travel! So that I can meet some of my most favourite people! Q: What has been the toughest criticism given to you? What has been the best compliment?
Tamania: As a blogger, the toughest criticism I face is from people who feel I should be teaching Islam also. To them, I always say that there are amazing resources to teach children about religion and that it’s not my area of expertise.
The best compliment for me is always the one for my children!
Q: Can you walk us through a typical day for you?
Tamania: I love waking up before the kids to get some quiet time for myself and that is very important for my sanity. Most weekdays are school and activity drop off for the kids. My daughter goes to full-day school now and my son has preschool for a few hours on alternate days. I work around his schedule on the blog or at night once the kids are in bed.
Most days are a mix of home responsibilities, errands and time spent with family. I try and make sure I squeeze in time with friends also whenever possible.
Q: What’s next for Urdu Mom?
Tamania: So many plans and such little time!
Urdu Mom’s Favorites
TV Show/Movie: Hard to pick one!
Children’s Book(s): The Magic Faraway Tree!
Children’s Author: Enid Blyton
Book: Can’t pick one favourite!
Author: Shafeeq ur Rehman, Colonel Muhammad Khan, Ibne Insha, Patras Bukhari, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Neelum Ahmed Bashir, Enid Blyton, Jane Austen, J R R Tolkien, Michael Crichton and many many more!
Activity to do with your own kids: Reading, cycling and exploring
Pakistani Drama(s): Tanhaiyan, Ankahi and lots of 80s childhood favourites!
Comfort Food: Daal Chawal!
Street Food: Challi!
Cuisine(s): Thai and Sushi
Western or Desi Attire?: A mix of both
Holiday Destination: Anywhere close to a beach, some books and loved ones!
Thank you so much Tamania for taking the time for doing this for my blog. It was such a pleasure to know you personally.
If you are a parent who struggles with teaching your kids Urdu and encouraging them to speak the language, you should follow URDU MOM on her website and social media channels.